This Woman Can chats with Susie Campbell about everything from her time in the navy to collaboration, some pitfalls for start-ups and why she doesn’t have a favourite quote or saying.
You served in the royal navy. What was that experience like and did you ever feel disadvantaged as a woman?
In the most part, I absolutely loved my time in the royal navy – it fed a lot of my passions – sport, leadership, teamwork, travel and moving role every 2 years brought on new challenges, meeting new people and making new friends. Did I ever feel disadvantaged as a female? Pretty much my whole career was based on proving myself in a man’s world, whether it was in the gym, in a board meeting and most of all, onboard warships. Thankfully, I did work for one or two wonderful male Officers who treated me with the utmost respect and equality and were instrumental in ensuring I was rewarded accordingly and my career advanced in some cases, ahead of my male peers. Which of course was responded to by mindless comments such as, I must have slept my way up the promotion ladder! To be honest, it didn’t really bother me. Over the years I had learned how to become extremely resilient and robust when it came to dealing with men and inequality and actually became an Equality and Diversity Officer where I was able to fight the battles of others.
You focus on bricks and mortar marketing – can you please tell us a little bit more about what you specifically do?
Sure, I would love to! My first client was a baby products store with 2 shops and an online store and I discovered just how much I loved working on customer experience, displays and merchandising, product ranges, signage and branding and finding creative ways to bring customers through the door and connect with the wider community. Since the age of 13, I have worked in shops, cafes and restaurants and even while serving in the royal navy, I ran a project which saw me creating a number of catering, retail and leisure outlets within the largest Naval Base in the UK. And so understanding what is important to a customer and how a commercial premise â€“ be it shop, catering outlet, service provider such as a hairdresser or clinic â€“ can use simple marketing strategies to increase sales and customer base, became second nature to me and something I absolutely love and never tire of. My big bold goal is to become the Aussie equivalent of ‘Mary Queen of Shops’ helping keep Aussie shopkeepers in business!
You work with many partners – what do you think collaboration brings to the table and do you have any advice for other business owners when considering partnering with others?
I do indeed work with many partners. In fact, it was the only way I could set up a business and grow, as I had no financial investment. Collaboration for me simply makes sense on many fronts. Financially, if you don’t have the asset or resource but someone else has and you can do something in return, then swapping in place of buying it, is an obvious way to collaborate and something I have done numerous times and even now that I have money, I will generally always collaborate as collaborating brings with it so many more advantages. Advantages such as creativity, skill and experience – the old adage of 2 heads are better than one, is certainly the case when it comes to collaborating – finding someone with fresh ideas or complimenting skills to your own, can add enormous value to your business. When many businesses start out they don’t have staff and maybe can’t afford a mentor. Therefore, collaborating allows you to extend your knowledge for free as it generally involves bouncing ideas around. Increased reach and access to new audiences is another way collaborating can support your business – if a partner has your dream database and fanbase, then finding a mutually beneficial way to tap into that can propel your business forward faster than you could do and probably in a financially more effective way. And do not underestimate friendship; I moved to a country where I knew no one and had no contacts yet through collaboration, I have found friends as well as business associates. Collaborators become a fantastic network of contacts whom you can call on when needed which in itself, is an extremely valuable asset. All those times that a client asks for something you can’t do, ‘no problem as I have someone who can’, meaning you don’t have to pass on business necessarily and in addition, become known for having trusted, reliable referral partners.
My advice to anyone considering a collaboration is to be very clear on what you want to achieve – I receive so many approaches from business owners who have heard the benefits of collaborating but are not ‘partner ready’ and expect me to work out what it is they want and spot the opportunities for them. They also haven’t done their homework – what I mean is, they haven’t researched the business they are approaching to ensure there is alignment and opportunity. Of course you wont know for sure until you open up a conversation, however, knowing the basics first such as their social media tone, services, target market etc, is a good start. My third piece of advice is always keep collaborations, no matter how well you know the person, as a business transaction. That doesn’t mean you need legal agreements in place, but an agreement of some sort, mapping out who will do what and what has been agreed, is always wise. I have various agreements in place from informal right through to legally written ones – it really depends on the collaboration and what is at stake.
What would you consider your greatest success in business to date?
Mmmmm good question! I think for me it is both being profitable from day one and secondly and most importantly to me, my team. I have been successful in recruiting the most amazing team and without their commitment, loyalty and passion for Little Black Book, none of my subsequent successes would have been possible.
How have you coped with the challenges faced along the way?
First and foremost with, positivity. Rather than seeing a challenge as an obstacle, I see them as a stepping-stone to something else better. I learn from them, share with the team, discuss it and then create a process to ensure we can deal with it next time or better still, avoid it. Being realistic that challenges will arise in business, no matter how experienced or prepared you think you are, means that you build up better resilience. And I find that having robust processes in place allows me to feel confident that if something does arise, I can kick into action quickly. Having my team behind me is also a great comfort, as I know I have their support too.
What do you feel are some essentials budding entrepreneurs should realise before starting their own business?
Great question and the answer to which I believe all budding entrepreneurs should seek! My essentials are:
Consider the demands of running a business and be realistic about what it entails and if you have the self-motivation, leadership, resilience and commitment, to be able to be successful. There’s no shame in admitting that running a business is not for you. Knowing that, before you invest too much time and money is the savviest move! Not everyone is cut out for it. And if you don’t know what the demands are, go and talk to someone who is running the sort of business you want to and get the facts, good and bad!
Second, do your homework on the costs. What I mean is, start writing down everything you may need right from a computer through to stock. Then go through the list and categorise them into ‘must have to operate’, ‘need but can wait’ and ‘nice to have’. A big mistake I see many business owners making is rushing out and having business cards printed, expensive websites developed, joining costly coaching programmes to name a few, before they even know what their brand is or how they are going to find customers! My advice is, where possible and this is easiest as a service based business, find your first client first. Use them to test out your service, prices and processes. Do all your homework during this period, network, learn and research so that once you start turning over some money, you will be ready to implement what you have learned and hopefully have a clearer idea of whether your business is viable and where investment is actually needed. By which time, your business may have generated enough to invest back in, rather than dipping into your own savings and going into debt without a clear idea if an ROI (return on investment) is achievable.
Who do you admire in a business sense?
I have to confess to not following other business owners or entrepreneurs too avidly and generally admire many people for different reasons and find an aspect of many different people rather than one in their entirety. I haven’t found an idol; perfect in every way in the way some people admire the Oprah’s and Mario Folio’s of this world! The one who comes closest though is Duncan Bannatyne. I admire him for his tenacity, determination, willingness to put in the hard graft and building something by starting with nothing. I also love his approach to his employees and empowering them to succeed.
Do you have a favourite quote or saying that gets you through the tough times?
If I’m honest, no not really; I actually find them a little irritating sometimes! I like to motivate myself! I just talk to myself! I take a deep breath, make a list, breathe some more, maybe take a walk with the dog and then tell myself that this is not insurmountable and not the end of the world, so just get on with it, step by step, be methodical and visualise the feeling when you get to the other side! I know how good that feels and that feeling often pushes me to sort it out and just get it done! And ultimately the acceptance that the buck stops with me and if I don’t get through it, then it may impact my business in some way be it financially or perhaps reputation, is enough for me! Both are of paramount importance, as I have bills to pay, wages to pay and a business built on reputation!